6 04 2011

Friday April 15, 2011 marks the anniversary of the day that Jackie Roosevelt Robinson broke into the big leagues with the Brooklyn Dodgers back in 1947.  When the 27-year-old ballplayer showed up for work that day at that grand iconic ballpark called Ebbets Field, Jackie didn’t just walk through an ordinary clubhouse door, but he blew a huge hole finally breaking a color barrier that had been in place for as long as the National and American Leagues had been in existence.  And while today, it is hard to find anyone who doesn’t have a strong admiration for what Robinson accomplished that year- back then it surely wasn’t the case.  Jackie was one man up trying to break down a rigid system of stereotypical and prejudiced biases that unfortunately still exist today.  To think that one tribe, color or creed is better than another is ludicrous and foolish- but not everything we learn along the way is true and good and any form of bigotry passed on down definitely falls into that category!

What should have made the front and back pages of the New York dailies that April day hardly even made a dent in the sports section.  It was still an unwritten feeling among the majority that integration would ruin the game and so there were still many who would hope that maybe this grand experiment might fail and it would all just go away.  But not just any athlete was chosen.  Not just any man was called for this monumental task.  Jack Roosevelt Robinson was an incredible individual.  In many ways he was a modern day David called upon to slew a Goliath of gigantic proportions!  It is not just anybody who can exhibit incredible strength by not fighting back and by not reacting to the horrible indecencies done to him even when he would have been so fully justified to do so!  Jackie Robinson would personally pay for this act of bravery dearly with his health and eventually with his life.  Having to carry the weight of an entire race and forced to become a human pressure cooker in the process with no genuine outlet to vent off the steam was probably asking too much of any human being.  But flanked by his heroic wife, Rachel, who never really let on how sad she was for her husband, the two of them survived what probably would have done in any color of man- never mind a sole black man trying to make his mark in what sadly was only a white man’s game up until this point!

Unfortunately it would take most of the first year for even his own Brooklyn teammates to back Jackie up and stand with him rather than against him.  It frustrates me even now to think that men who would claim to be Christians wouldn’t have acted more Christ like along the way.  Even the few who tried to stand by Jackie were taunted by their own family and friends.  Standing along the first-base line as part of Opening Day ceremonies that April 15th, Ralph Branca, a 21-year-old rookie pitcher purposely placed himself next to Robinson. When Branca got home that night, his brother said to him, “Are you crazy? Supposing a guy was a lousy shot and missed by three feet?”  Branca, who would go on to be a 21-game winner that year, grew up in Mt. Vernon playing with kids of all backgrounds. “I didn’t think anything of it.”  A few days before, the Dodgers had played their top farm club, the Montreal Royals. Robinson was still a Royal, not having been called up yet. He stood in against Branca, and hit a comebacker. When they intersected by the first-base line, Robinson said, “Thanks, Ralph.”  Only later did it occur to Branca that Robinson was expressing his appreciation that Branca hadn’t joined the anti-Robinson clique headed by Southerners Dixie Walker, Hugh Casey and Kirby Higbe – who tried to strong-arm Dodger General Manager Branch Rickey into getting rid of Robinson. All three players would eventually become Pittsburgh Pirates before the year was over.  Rickey had sent a strong message that those not for Robinson would be wearing a different uniform other than Dodger blue before it was all said and done.

It has been 64 years since Jackie Robinson’s history changing feat.  How far have we really come since then?  How about you?  Do you still judge a man by his color or his creed?  Are you willing to get to know a heart and not be blindsided by a label?  I wish I could wave a magic wand of love and do away with racial tension and prejudice.  I know life is still not fair- far from it!  But I do know that it will always be right to stand up for those that are being treated unfairly and to stand beside those who are fighting causes worth fighting for!  People never think clearly in crowds and it is much too easy for the majority to force their hatred and venom on others strong arming them into doing things and behaving in ways that they know clearly are not right.  One only needs to think of Jesus standing before the crowd that day as the unruly mob cried, “Crucify him,” with no just cause to back up their ignorant taunts!  I would only wish that we might make a little wiser choice today than the crazy one made back then!

So here’s to you Jackie Robinson, baseball loves you more than you could know!  Here is to you #42!  Here is to the courage and the integrity you showed and the battle you enlisted to not only compete- but actually complete.  May your story be told at every sandlot and may your memory be celebrated at every diamond for because of you-something good did happen!

Life is not a spectator sport…  If you’re going to spend your whole life in the grandstand just watching what goes on, in my opinion you’re wasting your life.”  Jackie Robinson




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